Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dr. J. Michael Bailey Admits To Bad Science?

My 'bots are dredging interesting stuff up this morning. Today, I find myself pointed to a transcription of a radio interview with Alice Dreger and J. Michael Bailey that follows up on my earlier post on the furor over Bailey's book.

There's two things that leap out at me in this interview - and they are both statements by Bailey.

Bailey: Well, sure thing. This would be a pretty simple matter to tell you what the book was if there hadn’t been an intentional attempt to defame me and my book. I wrote what is commonly understood to be a popular science book, in which I reviewed serious academic work by myself and other scholars. And the serious scholar who did the traditional academic work, peer reviewed and published in respectable journals, who wrote about transsexuals, is a guy named Ray Blanchard from Toronto, who I think is the world’s expert in transsexualism. And I, kind of coincidentally, because they came to me and wanted to talk to me and tell me about themselves, I came to know a group of transsexual women in Chicago. I was struck when I got to know them that there seemed to be these two completely, utterly distinct types of transsexuals, and I had not known about that. I subsequently became familiar with Ray Blanchard’s work, which was published in the 80s and early 90s, and it completely explained what I was seeing. It made me understand. And so I consulted gender experts, allegedly, such as Randi Ettner, and I read autobiographies of transsexuals, and I was struck by how they don’t write about what I could plainly see with my eyes and was there in Ray Blanchard’s work. And so I decided to write my book in part because of this.

In short, Bailey is essentially arguing that Ray Blanchard's theory supercedes all the other work and study of cross-gender identified people (and in particular, transsexuals) as an explanatory model. While I don't think Blanchard is anywhere near the mark in his classification and evaluation of the evidence, I don't want to entirely dismiss his work which may well contain some valid observations. In short, the jury's still out on this one - I think the evidence I have seen substantially calls into question Blanchard's interpretation of things.

Additionally, Bailey appears to be admitting that his clinical work has not substantially been involved with transgender people, and that isn't an "area of specialization" for him. Which is roughly equivalent to this author writing a book on machine intelligence and claiming that I'm an authority in the subject when my own dalliances in software have only touched upon the notion from time to time.

It's the second part of Bailey's statement that leaves me a little thunderstruck. Basically, Bailey has admitted here to writing a book based on what he and Blanchard infer from what I will broadly call the "transsexual narrative" - oddly in areas such as sexual identity that he freely admits do not appear to any great degree in the narratives themselves. This is as close to a tacit admission of intellectual hackery as I've seen come from an author with Bailey's credentials.

I realize that in science one has to "read between the lines" that the evidence before you contains (whether we are talking about psychology or particle physics), but there are degrees to which such inferences can be made and supported. However, if transsexuals don't talk about their sexual identity in their narrative, it's probably because it isn't important to the discussion of gender identity!

This one statement is the gem that puts the whole Bailey/Blanchard thing into perspective - regardless of the actions of those who sought to intimidate or bully Bailey. His book, and theoretical assertions, are at best transcriptions of Blanchard's work, and inflated considerably by whatever anecdotal evidence Bailey chose to interpret through Blanchard's model.

It's a sad statement that the subtitle of Bailey's book talks of "The Science of Transsexualism", when more and more it becomes clear that very little science was actually involved in the writing of that book.

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